Lallan has returned. The man had virtually vanished for many months.
His tea stall in Old Delhi was among the city’s most atmospheric chai places, and looked like it had been here forever—though founded only four years ago.
The stall consisted of an arched niche scooped into the outer wall of a dilapidated building in Galli Choori Wallan street. This sublime niche was the best part of the stall.
In his late 20s, Lallan would walk to this spot every morning from his room in the vicinity, which he shared with half-a-dozen brick-layers. Within minutes, he would set up the stall consisting of a stove, a kettle, a steel tray, boxes of sugar and chai patti (tea leaves), stacks of plastic glasses, a pan of milk, strainers, and a few tea snacks such as the flaky fen, made in the neighbourhood bakeries. He carried the entire paraphernalia in a rusty metal trunk that the customers would use as bench.
In the morning, the space around the picturesque niche teemed with tea drinkers. They would be busy in their chai, gossip and newspapers, totally oblivious to the beautiful setting.
Suddenly, early last year, the stall vanished. The niche lost its life, although meantime it was whitewashed and made to look new by the building owner. Save for some ominous rumours, nobody around had a clue on what had become of Lallan.
Now, Lallan has resurfaced. This morning he is casually sitting inside that same niche, but without the tea things. Carefree and maskless, he says, “I’d gone back to my des (he means his village).” He’s from a village in Bahraich, UP—home to his parents, wife and four kids. Lallan left the city “because I was bored,” he admits shyly, shrugging his shoulders. He didn’t experience the city during the coronavirus-triggered lockdown. But why be back in such a challenging time?
“Because I must restart working… I’ll do something new, maybe become a brick layer.”
While his beautiful chai stall is not likely to be back, at least our city has regained its Lallan.
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